The U.S. Supreme Court Docket

February 17, 2014

My friend the judge—when I call him to go to lunch he answers “this is the judge”—never wants for business. He takes what comes and if he recuses himself because of a conflict—he knows one of the parties, one of the attorneys is a very close friend, etc.—someone else will have to handle the matter. That is the way of judging at the trial level and in most appellate courts.

Alas, the highest appellate courts in the states and the United States Supreme Court control their dockets mostly, deciding which cases to hear and not hear. (Certain states mandate “highest court review” of all cases involving a death sentence.) The United States Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over a very

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Probate!

February 16, 2014

Probate means, most narrowly, “proving a will,” and derives from the Latin verb probare (try, test or prove). In fact, its practical definition is much broader.

Generally, probate refers to the process for handling an estate after death. Thus, probate matters can involve the estate of an individual who dies with a will (testate), or without one (intestate). Probate cases involve the courts, and in most instances are about and only about gathering assets, paying debts, and distributing what is left over.

Probate also refers to the court and laws that exist to:  (a) address the administration of decedent’s estates; (b) handle trust disputes; and (c) appoint and supervise guardians (protectors of the person) and conservators (protectors of property)

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Heirs, Devisees, and Beneficiaries

February 13, 2014

Heard these terms? Wondered what they meant? Thought they were synonymous, one with the other. Here’s the lexicon:

Heirs are your relatives. Everyone has them! The law provides for them when someone dies without a will (intestate). The distribution goes as follows:  To the spouse; then to the children; then to the parents; then to the siblings; then to the aunts and uncles; then to the cousins. These rules apply if, when you die, you are married and don’t have any children from another relationship. If you do have a spouse and children from another relationship, 50% of your distributable assets go to your spouse, and 50% to your children from the other relationship. (These situations can get complicated,

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On Settling a Lawsuit

February 12, 2014

So you find yourself in a lawsuit. You sued someone, or you got sued; it really doesn’t matter. You’re spending money or, if you’re involved as an injured party in a suit for damages, you await compensation for your injuries. Regardless, you’re stuck in a time-consuming and less-than-pleasant process that may be costing you lots of money, and there is no certainty about the outcome. Maybe you’ll win, maybe you won’t; and, even if you win, you could really lose, given the money you’ve spent, the time you’ve wasted and the opportunities you’ve lost. All in all, not a good situation!

Lawsuits cannot always be avoided, but opportunities to resolve them without a trial are always present. Federal and state

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Decision Making at the Supreme Court, Sans Politics

February 11, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in June 2012 in NFIB v. Sebelius, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, case. It is a case for the ages, but it’s also a case that provides a platform for examining how the Court decides matters.

First, courts at all levels value stare decisis, Latin for “stand by the decision.” Underlying stare decisis is the notion that we are a nation of laws; thus, legal principles, once decided, should be applied consistently going forward, without regard for politics, the identity of the parties, etc. Further, we need and expect predictability from the law, for we want to know with a reasonable degree of certainty what is

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Financial Powers of Attorney

February 10, 2014

A Financial Power of Attorney (POA) is a legal documents that give someone else–your attorney-in-fact–the power to act for you. (A Health Care Power of Attorney is different; stay tuned!) POAs seem simple, but while they are not especially complicated tools, they’re more than a “sign here” form.

Option 1:  Is your POA durable? A durable POA lets your attorney-in-fact act even if you suffer from a lack of mental capacity. The law defaults to “the power ends if the principal lacks mental capacity,” so if you are giving someone a POA so he or she can act if you have a stroke, dementia, etc., you’ll most likely want it to be durable.

Option 2:  Does your POA

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